Opponents of same-sex marriage have marshaled all sorts of arguments to make their case, from the rather alarmist view that it would de-sanctify and ultimately destroy heterosexual marriage to the assertion that it would logically lead to polygamy and the downfall of Western civilization. None of these arguments—to my mind, at least—make the least amount of sense, and they have all been singularly ineffective in beating back the rising tide of sentiment in favor of allowing same-sex couples the “right” to marry.

The problem with these arguments is that they are all rooted in religion or in some secular concept of morality alien to American culture in the 21st century—a culture that is characterized by relativism, impiety, and a preoccupation with other matters that make this issue less pressing than it otherwise might be. Yet there is an effective conservative—or rather libertarian—case to be made against legalizing gay marriage, one that can be summarized by the old aphorism: be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.

The imposition of a legal framework on the intricate web of relationships that have previously existed in the realm of freedom—that is, outside the law and entirely dependent on the trust and compliance of the individuals involved—would not only be a setback for liberty but a disaster for those it supposedly benefits: gay people themselves.

Of course, we already have gay marriages. Just as heterosexual marriage, as an institution, preceded the invention of the state, so the homosexual version existed long before anyone thought to give it legal sanction. Extending the authority of the state into territory previously untouched by its tender ministrations, legalizing relationships that had developed and been found rewarding entirely without this imprimatur, would wreak havoc where harmony once prevailed. Imagine a relationship of some duration in which one partner, the breadwinner, had supported his or her partner without much thought about the economics of the matter: one had stayed home and tended the house, while the other had been in the workforce, bringing home the bacon. This division of labor had prevailed for many years, not requiring any written contract or threat of legal action to enforce its provisions.

Then, suddenly, they are legally married—or, in certain states, considered married under the common law. This changes the relationship, and not for the better. For now the property of the breadwinner is not his or her own: half of it belongs to the stay-at-home. Before when they argued, money was never an issue: now, when the going gets rough, the threat of divorce—and the specter of alimony—hangs over the relationship, and the mere possibility casts its dark shadow over what had once been a sunlit field.

If and when gay marriage comes to pass, its advocates will have a much harder time convincing their fellow homosexuals to exercise their “right” than they did in persuading the rest of the country to grant it. That’s because they have never explained—and never could explain—why it would make sense for gays to entangle themselves in a regulatory web and risk getting into legal disputes over divorce, alimony, and the division of property.

Marriage evolved because of the existence of children: without them, the institution loses its biological, economic, and historical basis, its very reason for being. This is not to say childless couples—including gay couples—are any less worthy (or less married) than others. It means only that they are not bound by necessity to a mutual commitment involving the ongoing investment of considerable resources.

From two sets of given circumstances, two parallel traditions have evolved: one, centered around the rearing of children, is heterosexual marriage, the habits and rules of which have been recognized and formalized by the state. The reason for this recognition is simple: the welfare of the children, who must be protected from neglect and abuse.

The various childless unions and alternative relationships that are an increasing factor in modern society have evolved informally, with minimal state intervention. Rather than anchored by necessity, they are governed by the centrality of freedom.

The prospect of freedom—not only from traditional moral restraints but from legal burdens and responsibilities—is part of what made homosexuality appealing in the early days of the gay-liberation movement. At any rate, society’s lack of interest in formalizing the love lives of the nation’s homosexuals did not result in any decrease in homosexuality or make it any less visible. Indeed, if the experience of the past 30 years means anything, quite the opposite is the case. By superimposing the legal and social constraints of heterosexual marriage on gay relationships, we will succeed only in de-eroticizing them. Are gay marriage advocates trying to take the gayness out of homosexuality?

The gay-rights movement took its cues from the civil rights movement, modeling its grievances on those advanced by the moderate wing led by Dr. Martin Luther King and crafting a legislative agenda borrowed from the NAACP and allied organizations: the passage of anti-discrimination laws—covering housing, employment, and public accommodations—at the local and national level. Efforts to institutionalize gay marriage have followed this course, with “equality” as the goal.

But the civil rights paradigm never really fit: unlike most African-Americans, lesbians and gay men can render their minority status invisible. Furthermore, their economic status is not analogous—indeed, there are studies that show gay men, at least, are economically better off on average than heterosexuals. They tend to be better educated, have better jobs, and these days are not at all what one could call an oppressed minority. According to GayAgenda.com, “studies show that [gay] Americans are twice as likely to have graduated from college, twice as likely to have an individual income over $60,000 and twice as likely to have a household income of $250,000 or more.”

Gays an oppressed minority group? I don’t think so.

The gay-liberation movement started as a protest against state oppression. The earliest gay-rights organizations, such as the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, sought to legalize homosexual activity, then illegal per se. The movement was radicalized in the 1960s over police harassment. A gay bar on New York City’s Christopher Street, known as the Stonewall, was the scene of a three-day riot provoked by a police raid. Tired of being subjected to continual assault by the boys in blue, gay people fought back—and won. At the time, gay bars were under general attack from the New York State Liquor Authority, which pulled licenses as soon as a bar’s reputation as a gay gathering place became apparent. Activists of that era concentrated their fire on the issues that really mattered to the gay person in the street: the legalization of homosexual conduct and the protection of gay institutions.

As gay activists grew older, however, and began to channel their political energy into the Democratic Party, they entered a new and more “moderate” phase. Instead of celebrating their unique identity and history, they undertook the arid quest for equality—which meant, in practice, battling “discrimination” in employment and housing, a marginal issue for most gay people—and finally taking up the crusade for gay marriage.

Instead of battling the state, they began to use the state against their perceived enemies. As it became fashionable and politically correct to be “pro-gay,” a propaganda campaign was undertaken in the public schools, epitomized by the infamous “Rainbow Curriculum” and the equally notorious tome for totsHeather Has Two Mommies. For liberals, who see the state not as Nietzsche’s “cold monster” but as a warm and caring therapist who is there to help, this was only natural. The Therapeutic State, after all, is meant to transform society into a liberal utopia where no one judges anyone and everyone listens to NPR.

These legislative efforts are largely educational: once enacted, anti-discrimination ordinances in housing, for example, are meant to show that the state is taking a side and indirectly teaching citizens a lesson—that it’s wrong to discriminate against gays. The reality on the ground, however, is a different matter: since there’s no way to know if one is being discriminated against on account of one’s presumed sexuality—and since gays have the choice not to divulge that information—it is impossible to be sure if such discrimination has occurred, short of a “No Gays Need Apply” sign on the door. Moreover, landlords, even the bigots among them, are hardly upset when a couple of gays move in, fix up the place to look like something out of House & Garden, and pay the rent on time. The homosexual agenda of today has little relevance to the way gay people actually live their lives.

But the legislative agenda of the modern gay-rights movement is not meant to be useful to the gay person in the street: it is meant to garner support from heterosexual liberals and others with access to power. It is meant to assure the careers of aspiring gay politicos and boost the fortunes of the left wing of the Democratic Party. The gay-marriage campaign is the culmination of this distancing trend, the reductio ad absurdum of the civil rights paradigm.

The modern gay-rights movement is all about securing the symbols of societal acceptance. It is a defensive strategy, one that attempts to define homosexuals as an officially sanctioned victim group afflicted with an inherent disability, a disadvantage that must be compensated for legislatively. But if “gay pride” means anything, it means not wanting, needing, or seeking any sort of acceptance but self-acceptance. Marriage is a social institution designed by heterosexuals for heterosexuals: why should gay people settle for their cast-off hand-me-downs?

Justin Raimondo is editorial director of Antiwar.com and author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.

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